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Honoring Agreements
By Peggy Smith
 

"Once I commit to a customer I always complete the job – no matter how overbooked I am – no matter how many hours a day I have to work to get it done. I can get so exhausted and angry with myself." – NVC Level 1 training participant

Hearing this made me wonder, why do we commit to so many things that we lose connection with the needs of ease, fun, play and rest?
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Honoring Agreements ...continued

Are we reacting to a core belief that our value lies in what we do? Are we simply conforming to the norms of our culture? Or are we clear that we are contributing to our visions and dreams for the world?

Once we do commit to something how can we change our minds without negating the need of honoring agreements? I have worked with this question for several years.

I started to look at what I did when I had made a commitment and then changed my mind. I began to notice that I would sometimes lie about my reasons for changing the agreement – so that the reasoning seemed "beyond my control." I would say things like, "My car won’t start," or, "My family member is sick," when the truth was that I was tired or I wanted to spend time in my garden instead.

Using an NVC lens to consider my behavior, I found that underneath this habit of telling lies lay a desire to be liked, for acceptance and belonging. A problem arose. When I made one of these untruthful statements my energy was not clear and connecting.

Often the other person picked up on this lack of clarity, creating confusion and muddiness between us. Ironically, this decreased my sense of belonging. Marshall Rosenberg might call this a tragic attempt to meet a beautiful need.

Then I started thinking about decisions from a needs-based perspective. Now, if I begin to feel uncomfortable with a commitment for any reason, I use an NVC based inquiry.

  • What needs might I have been contributing to by saying "yes" to a commitment?

  • What needs might the other person (persons or group) have been addressing when they asked me for the commitment?

  • What needs might I be neglecting if I stick with the commitment?

  • Then I take time to consider which strategy would serve life in the best way at that time: to stick with the original agreement or to change it.

  • If I decide to change it, then I remember how important integrity is to me. The strategy I have come to enjoy the most is transparency.

This involves being transparent with myself – getting clear what needs are most calling for my attention, then contacting the other person as soon as possible and telling them clearly about the change, clearly stating the needs involved. Then I ask how they are affected by my change. Then, it is important to me to listen from calm presence, not hearing the other person’s statements, no matter how they are said, as blame.

Hearing their reaction may lead me to reconsider and stick with the original commitment. Or I can know that I did the best I could to take care of each of us in the situation. Or a third idea may arise from our honest expression to each other. The more I practice this, the more creativity seems to emerge in decisions.

Here are some elements that I appreciate from others, and therefore try to use as much as possible myself.

  • Before saying "yes" to someone’s request, I look carefully within myself to assess what % of me wants to say "yes" and what % wants to say "no."

  • If I have made a commitment and decide to change it, I tell the other person as soon as possible.

  • I tell my reasons, honestly. As an NVC practitioner I know that behind every "no" there is a "yes" to some need(s). When I say "no," I make every effort to express the needs that I’m saying "yes" to. And when I hear a "no" from someone else, I make every effort to hear the "yes" that is being expressed.

  • I ask how the other person is affected, and I listen.

  • I seek complete communication, until both parties have a clear sense of being heard and understood.

The relationship is what is most important to me. I have come to realize that when other people change their minds about their commitments, and then don’t choose to have this level of communication about their decision – that is most painful for me.

Of course we won’t always get what we want. We CAN get connection through honest dialogue. To me, this is a valuable way to nurture the beautiful needs of honoring agreements, integrity and belonging.

Further Practice

You may want to use Feelings and Needs Cards to help you with this exercise. These can be downloaded for free here.

Re-do #1:
Clear some time (20 minutes perhaps) for self-reflection. Remember a time that you made a commitment to do something and later regretted the commitment.

Record:
  • Observation: What was the commitment?

  • Judgments: What thoughts arose from this commitment? thoughts about yourself; thoughts about other people involved; thoughts about the task/commitment.

  • Repeat each judgment, this time starting with the phrase, "I’m telling myself . . . "

  • Bring the commitment back to mind. When you think about doing the commitment, what feelings come up? What needs are underneath these feelings? What needs were supported by doing it? What needs seem neglected by doing it?

  • Brainstorm how you might have changed the commitment with care and consideration.

Re-do #2:
Think of a time that someone "broke" an agreement with you.

Record:

  • Observation: What was the commitment? How did it get changed?

  • Judgments: What thoughts arose from this change? thoughts about yourself; thoughts about other people involved; thoughts about the task/commitment.

  • Repeat each judgment, this time starting with the phrase, "I’m telling myself . . . "

  • Bring the situation back to mind. When you think about what happened, what feelings come up? What needs are underneath these feelings?

  • Brainstorm how you would have preferred the person to act.

  • Make a request of yourself to use your preferred strategies the next time you are changing an agreement.

 

Peggy Smith is a certified NVC trainer living in Lincolnville, ME. A co-founder of the Maine NVC Network and principle trainer with Open Communication, Peggy loves living, teaching and coaching NVC.

 

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NVC Personal Growth and Healing Package

NVC Personal Growth
and Healing Book or
eBook Package
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Your Price: $22
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through July 31, 2014
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